BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — You don’t have to go far to find the freshest farm-to-table produce in the area.
Tom Strain & Sons and Daughter Too Market and Garden Center has been harvesting fresh produce in Northwest Ohio for 130 years. For the past 73 years, the family has run a successful retail and produce market in Toledo.
Becky Strain, who runs the retail and potted division of the greenhouse business, is a fifth-generation family member. She helps operate the business along with several family members, including her brothers Gary and Tom Strain and her sister Laurie Skowronski, who helps seasonally. Their father, Tom Jr., is also involved in the business and their grandfather, the late Tom Sr., also worked on the farm.
The locally harvested produce includes corn, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, cabbage, sprouts and peppers.
“Ninety percent of what is in the store is local, so our produce is right from field to table,” she said.
Also grown on-site are flowers, herbs, perennials and hanging baskets, and while the growing season is continual, the test for any farmer is overcoming the natural elements, which are often inconsistent.
“The biggest challenge is the weather. Mother Nature predicts this business for every farmer. Mother Nature is our friend or enemy depending on what she decides to do that day,” Becky said.
The variety of produce is harvested on approximately 200 acres of land, including the central business located on Hill Avenue, which encompasses over 6 acres of greenhouse and a retail store.
For Becky and her siblings, the work is ongoing and ever evolving.
“We’re constantly changing seasons,” she said. “Right now we finished with mums and the poinsettias are in, so it’s October and we are working on Christmas. Then, we will begin working on spring of next year. I don’t think people realize how much planning a year ahead we have to do.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has been especially busy, and for the first time, many items in the store sold out.
“People stayed home this year and enjoyed their backyards,” Becky said. “People who had never planted gardens were planting gardens. Who knew a year ago that that would happen?”
Marcia Miller, of South Toledo, has been a regular customer at Strain’s for many years.
“I come here every week. I go to church, then to the cemetery where my husband is buried, then I come here – it’s my routine,” Miller said. “I love that it’s family-owned. They are always so nice.”
The farm market also takes part in the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which is run through the Area Office on Aging. Through the program, seniors who qualify receive $50.00 worth of vouchers that may be redeemed for locally grown fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and honey provided by farmers throughout 11 counties in Northwest Ohio.
According to Rebecca Liebes, the vice president of nutrition, health and wellness for the Ohio Office on Aging, the senior nutrition program ends on October 31.
“The coupons usually go out in early June, but this year because of COVID they weren’t sent out until July,” Rebecca said.
Tom Strain & Sons is one of the largest growers among the 123 farmers in the 11 counties that currently participate in the program. The federally funded program is based on amount of usage, which means it is very important for those seniors who do have the coupons to redeem them before the deadline ends.
Participation depends on income and those interested in participating next year may fill out an application online or request an application through the mail.
“Tom Strain’s has a large variety of items and they make it easy for seniors to buy produce,” Rebecca said.
Currently, the store is filled with fall items, including mums, pumpkins, apples and cornstalks. It will close on Halloween day and reopen on Monday, November 16 for the Christmas holiday season by featuring poinsettias, grave blankets, wreaths, roping and other Christmas items.
The retail store then closes on December 24 and reopens in April; however, Becky and the rest of the staff will continue to work in the greenhouses to prepare for the next season.
“There is no downtime. In January, we start planting for next year,” she said.
Tom Strain & Sons and Daughter Too Market and Garden Center is located at 5041 Hill Ave. in Toledo.
Information can be found online at www.tomstrainandsons.com or by calling (419) 531-8183.